Jon Hopkins, 29, Classical Refugee

July 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #66, June 2009.

Handpicked to perform at Sydney’s Luminous Festival by ambient music godfather Brian Eno, London innovator Jon Hopkins is one of the genre’s rising stars. He chatted with Dan Rule about his new album and his former life as a classical music prodigy.

You were trained as a classical pianist from a very early age and attended the Royal College of Music in London. What made you turn away?
“It was an amazing thing to learn something in a traditional sense. But I think the day I realised I wasn’t going to be a classical pianist was when I won this concerto competition, which meant that I had to play a piece with the orchestra in front of an entire classical crowd at the concert hall at the college. It was just the most terrifying thing I’d ever done. Have you seen that film Shine? Well it was the same concert hall and the same conductor. The only difference is that I didn’t go mental at that particular point.”

Who really inspired you to explore electronic and ambient music?
“Groups like Plaid, on Warp Records, were a massive influence. They have this real delicacy to their stuff, but also a real brutality when it’s needed. It’s funny though, I didn’t really know much about ambient music. I mean, I didn’t even know any of Eno’s stuff until I got all these reviews of my first record saying that I sounded a bit like him (laughs). Of course, I then realised that his influence was in everything else that I was likely to have listened to.”

Tell me about how the songs on Insides arose. Do your compositional triggers come from a myriad of sources, or do songs generally start with the piano?
“This album, for me, almost feels like a piano album. Things just grow out of one element usually and there’s a huge level of improvisation around that – just chucking as many ideas at it as possible and then just seeing which ones survive. I like to keep the idea of playing, as opposed to programming, at the forefront. I don’t want it to become too abstract, like it’s been composed in a vacuum or something.”

The track titles seem to convey a kind of physiological theme…
“Insides is kind of about the body. Like, Vessel is just another word for the human body – the vessel that carries your soul or whatever. I like that idea of having that vaguely graphic element and that visceral connotation. With Light Through the Veins in particular, I just wanted to conjure up this idea of almost being electrified by euphoria, you know; those moments when something incredible has happened and you’re just so alive with it.”

The majority of experimental music adheres to the idea of exploring new languages, but your music seems as much about maintaining a connection to more traditional forms.

“I think if you allow yourself no rules at all and you stretch everything as far as you like, it can be less effective than if you say, well, ‘I’m going to stick to a song structure’ or ‘I’m going to incorporate this instrument’. I find it more exciting to put a few restrictions on myself.”

Jon Hopkins plays the Luminous Festival at the Sydney Opera House on June 6, 7 and 8.
Insides is out through Domino/EMI
Visit: jonhopkins.co.uk

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